Published 1992 by Avon Historical Romance.
Wendy the SuperLibrarian. This month's theme is 'Romance Classic,' interpretation of which is left to the participant. Wendy is very laid back like that. I chose Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale for my classic pick because it was published over a decade ago and is still widely mentioned and read by romance readers today. I so glad that I finally read this book, which I adored.
Christian Langland is the Duke of Jervaulx and a wealthy rake with no regard for morals. He's also a brilliant mathematician who at the opening of the novel is collaborating with a blind Quaker named John Timms on a mathematics paper. John Timms' twenty-five year old spinster daughter, Archimedea 'Maddy' Timms serves as the messenger of papers between her father and the duke. Although she never sees nor speaks to Langland, she is fully aware of his immoral behavior and as a Quaker she is quite repulsed by his character. However, her father has the utmost admiration for Langland's intellect and the two get alone quite well. When Maddy and her father are invited to join Langland for dinner one evening, she finds herself attracted to him nonetheless, even despite her unease with his flirting.
Later that very same night, Langland suffers from what is very likely a stroke when he is confronted by his mistress' husband in a duel. He is so severely impaired that his family allows society to believe him dead when he is actually only suffering from aphasia, or the inability to understand or express speech, written or spoken. His family ultimately confine him to an asylum because no one understands him, nor does he understand them. Out of extreme frustration, Langland lashes out violently so now not only does his family think him mentally disturbed, but violent also.
Months later, Maddy and her father are visiting Blythedale Halle, the asylum that Cousin Edward oversees when she happens upon the cell of a man who turns out to be none other than the Duke of Jervaulx. Maddy has intense empathy for Langland and in fact, is quickly able to discern that he is not so much mentally disturbed but rather extremely frustrated and scared about his inability to communicate. She feels a strong calling to help Langland overcome his disabilities and even be released from the asylum so the safety and well being of Christian Langland becomes her mission. Over the course of this lengthy novel, Maddy and Christian go through all sorts of chaotic, dangerous and frustrating situations, all of which is hugely stressful for both of them. For Christian, he is a brilliant man trapped in his own mind, so to speak, racked by incredible frustration as his family and society strip him of his dignity, power, autonomy and certainly his money. For Maddy, she is a simple woman of faith who has been raised with a strict set of beliefs that challenge her every step of the way as she is constantly questioning herself. To do what she feels is right in her heart or what she was taught to be right by her Quaker faith. Their story is one full of self-doubts, mistakes and manipulations, but in the end, love does conquer all.
It's pretty obvious why Flowers From the Storm has captured the hearts of so many romance readers over the years. Both the plot and characters are quite unique. I loved the fact that Kinsale doesn't slip one bit in the authenticity of her characters. That is, Langland's aphasia improves only slightly, and only as much as would be realistically expected within the time frame of his stroke. The reader is then forced to read Langland's broken speech on the page just as Maddy and the others would experience it. We are left with the same frustrations and misunderstandings that we would be if we were actually in the story ourselves. No narration shortcuts, which makes his character and story that much more believable. Similarly, Maddy's devotion to her Quaker faith is realistically steadfast. So much so that I was actually starting to think she was going to let this chance at love slip away just because of the rules of her faith, an outcome that's actually quite realistic even by today's standard, but not for me and likely not for most romance readers. While I often felt some frustration in Maddy's slowness to come around to acknowledging that her love for Christian is acceptable in the eyes of God, her struggles with her faith and with trusting herself were also very believable.
While I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story, at times I felt the pacing was a bit long winded and at times I thought both Christian and Maddy left too many of their issues unspoken between them. Considering the immense struggles they were both facing, I expected them to share more elaborate and thought-provoking revelations about themselves and each other. Flowers From the Storm is definitely a memorable story and definitely worth reading!
4+ out of 5 stars